Car Driver found fully liable in Chatham Motorcycle Accident

Posted by Injury Lawyers of Ontario on July 02, 2019

Ontario Provincial Police (OPP) reports have shown that, in almost half of the motorcycle accidents that occurred in 2017, the accident victim was not at fault in causing the accident.  In a substantial number of cases, serious injuries and fatalities for motorcycle drivers and riders resulted from another driver’s negligent actions.  And, the leading causes of death and injury for motorcyclists are driving while impaired by drugs or alcohol, excessive speed, failure to yield, and making improper turns. 

Motorcycle Accident Lawsuit: Boudreau v. Hiltz

Boudreau v. Hiltz (2018) is a civil action in which an injured motorcyclist (the plaintiff) sought a summary judgement to find the at fault driver (the defendant) entirely liable for the motorcycle accident that caused his injuries.  When a lawsuit cannot be resolved through negotiation or arbitration and the case goes to trial, a summary judgement is the least expensive and most efficient method of achieving a decision on the issue of liability for an accident.

In Boudreau, the accident occurred when a car driving along Grand Ave in Chatham made a sudden left turn towards a side street, directly in front of a motorcycle which was travelling in the opposite direction.  The plaintiff was riding his motorcycle and nearing the intersection at Grand Ave and Woods Street when he collided with the left front of the defendant’s car which unexpectedly turned in his path. 

The injured motorcyclist, Mr. Boudreau, alleges that he lost consciousness after he was thrown from his motorcycle and as a result of the accident, he sustained serious and permanent physical, neurological, psychological, sensory and cognitive impairments.  The plaintiff filed a civil suit against the car driver to seek damages for economic (pecuniary) and non-pecuniary losses that were caused by the defendant’s negligent driving action. 

The defendant, Mr. Hiltz, challenged the plaintiff’s allegation that he is wholly liable for the plaintiff’s injuries and argued, instead, that Mr. Boudreau was contributorily negligent in causing his own injuries. The defendant also asserted that this issue should be left for a jury to decide, rather than being determined in the current summary judgement motion.

Background

Several witnesses, as well as the plaintiff and defendant, gave evidence with respect to the circumstances leading up to the accident.  The plaintiff stated that he saw the defendant’s car when it was about five car lengths from the intersection at Woods Street and at that time, the car did not have an active left turn signal.  But then, very close to the intersection and without warning, the car began to turn from the centre through-lane, which left the motorcyclist with no time to brake or avoid a crash with the car.  

Witnesses to the crash gave accounts stating that, based on their observations, the motorcycle rider was driving in a normal and controlled manner and not speeding.  One of the witnesses corroborated the plaintiff’s evidence when she testified that she, too, did not observe the Ford displaying an active left-turn signal at any point, nor did the defendant’s car properly merge into the left-hand turn lane before making the turn.  The witness further stated that the car’s sudden left turn caught her “completely off-guard’.

In the defendant’s account of the accident, he stated that he slowed down significantly, likely to 25 km/hr, when he saw the light turn red at an upcoming intersection and spontaneously decided to make the left turn onto Woods Street. He also said that came to a complete stop just before turning and did, in fact, signal his left turn.  Further, he gave testimony that he didn’t see the motorcycle at all until his passenger shouted ‘watch out’’ and he explained his failure to see the motorcycle by suggesting that it emerged from a nearby parking lot just as he was preparing to make his left turn.  Finally, the defendant stated that the motorcyclist should have kept a better lookout for traffic, and had sufficient time to avoid the collision and could have moved into the westbound-curb lane in order to do so. 

Police at the scene of the accident gave the defendant driver a ticket for an ‘unsafe left turn’. The defendant attended traffic court but left before formally appearing before the court, and was consequently convicted ‘in absentia’.  He paid the fine and did not appeal the conviction.

Analysis

During his cross-examination, some of the defendant’s statements contrasted with statements that he himself had made earlier. For example, the defendant originally stated that there were no vehicles travelling eastbound ahead of him prior to the accident and he had an unobstructed view. He later admitted that there were several vehicles ahead, including a tractor trailer truck which had moved into the left-turn lane, and the presence of the truck led him to make the decision not to move into the left-lane since he believed the truck would slow him down.

In making his analysis of evidence, Justice Verbeem noted the discrepancies in the defendant’s evidence given at different times as well as the conflicting testimony presented by the defendant and the independent witnesses.  Further, the testimony evidence given by all of the witnesses suggested that the motorcycle was being driven in a safe manner prior to the accident until the defendant turned in front of the plaintiff’s motorcycle, without giving prior warning or providing a chance to avoid the crash.   Finally, the judge noted that the defendant did not challenge, through cross-examination, any of the plaintiff’s evidence that was presented in the motion, including the witness’ testimony.

In order to win the case and prove that the defendant’s negligent operation of his vehicle caused the plaintiff’s significant injuries, the plaintiff must establish the following facts on a balance of probabilities:

  • that the defendant owed him a duty of care
  • the defendant breached that duty by failing to act with a reasonable standard of care
  • the defendant’s breach caused the plaintiff to suffer injuries or losses that would not have occurred ‘but for’ the breach

On the other hand, in order for the defendant to prove that the plaintiff was contributorily negligent in causing his own injuries and losses, the defendant must be able to establish on a balance of probabilities, that the plaintiff’s injuries were, at least partially, caused by the plaintiff’s failure to operate his motorcycle with a reasonable standard of care.

There is a heavy onus on a driver, to ensure that their turn can be made safely, before commencing to make a left-hand turn (as in Younes v. Nikzad, 2010).  A ‘safe turn’ requires that drivers signal their turns in advance when any other road users might be affected by their actions, and drivers who have an unobstructed view are expected not only to look, but to see any traffic or barriers that are clearly visible.   However, turning and oncoming drivers must both take reasonable care to avoid an accident, including driving sufficiently slowly to be able to safely stop, given their range of view.

After considering all the evidence, Justice Verbeem found that there was no evidence to support the defendant’s argument that the plaintiff breached the required standard of care.  Witness testimony corroborated that the motorcyclist was driving in a safe and prudent manner.  On the other hand, the judge concluded that, due to the following actions, the defendant’s driving conduct did not meet a reasonable standard of care:

  • failure to make sure he could turn safely before initiating the turn
  • not signalling his intention to make a left turn
  • initiating his turn from the improper lane rather than the left-turn lane
  • failing to see the approaching motorcycle which was in plain view
  • not providing the plaintiff with a reasonable chance to avoid the accident

Justice Verbeem found that the accident would not have happened ‘but for’ the defendant’s actions, and ruled that the defendant was entirely at fault and liable for the motorcycle accident.  Further, Justice Verbeem determined that the evidence presented in the summary judgement provided sufficient information and grounds to make a fair and just determination.

If you were injured by a negligent driver in a motorcycle accident, cycling accident, pedestrian accident or other motor vehicle accident, call an experienced Windsor car accident lawyer.   Our legal team offers substantial resources and many years experience successfully representing accident victims who sustained serious injuries in an automobile accident.  Your initial consultation is free and provides a good opportunity to have your legal questions answered and to get to know our team.


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